Rachel Crothers (1878-1958) had nearly 30 plays produced on Broadway between 1906 and 1937; and she directed most of them herself. “In the last 200 years, a respectable number of women have left their mark on American theater, but few of them have had as impressive a career as Rachel Crothers,” wrote the New York Times in 1980, adding “Although it is rare now to find anyone who has heard of her, Miss Crothers at the apex of her career was the symbol of success in the commercial theater.”
Born in Bloomington, Illinois, Crothers came from a family of strong, accomplished women—her mother was the region’s first female doctor—and their influence can be seen in many of her intelligent, surprisingly resourceful heroines. Rhy, the protagonist of her first Broadway play, The Three of Us (1906), keeps her orphaned siblings together and fights for their right to own a silver mine. In A Man’s World (1910), Frankie Ware shocks turn-of-the century society by establishing a successful career as a novelist and social reformer. Even seemingly timid Julie Rutherford in A Little Journey (1918, finalist for the first Pulitzer Prize for Drama) finds unexpected strength when faced with disaster.
Crothers’ exacting standards helped professionalize the roles of playwright and director in American theater. In speeches, essays, and newspaper articles, she also championed actor training and scenic design. Her efforts helped transform the fledgling American theatre into a mature art form.